Archive for Ostrich Chicks

What is “scientifically proven”?

This link is to a book that discussed "what is scientifically proven" .... although this particular book related to human nutrition and health,  the basic principles of “scientifically proven” remain the same no matter which specie or subject under discussion.

Quoting the above reference: A “scientific” experiment is one where you take a set of circumstances, purposefully change only ONE variable, run the experiment and observe what happens. If anything interesting or unusual happens, then you look for a reason. Since all of the VARIABLES were “controlled,” the most likely suspect as to the CAUSE of the observed change is the one variable that you purposefully changed.   That’s science.

When first entering the ostrich industry back in 1994 wanting to learn more, the words "scientifically proven" was continually used - but when one examined what was being said, it quickly became obvious that there was nothing scientifically proven as it applied to ostrich production.  Another word heard repeatedly was “replicable”.   Of course important, but the variables must be understood in order to ensure an experiment is replicable under the same given conditions.

The success of the other livestock industries over the past decades is a result of the very high volumes of production that have enabled management to control the variables. Until it is possible to control variables, the only meaningful studies that can be carried out are those that set benchmark figures to enable further studies to be evaluated as we develop volume and in a position to eliminate the variables.

What exactly are these “variables”?

What is a “Variable” when conducting any experiment or trial?
A variable in this context is any change however small that variable may appear to be.  This will include such things as:

  • The genetic heritage of the livestock – includes not only the breed, type, origin, but also the management and nutritional history of the genetic lines/parentage.
  • Environment – includes management systems, climate, housing, pens, stress exposure
  • When discussing nutrition – includes not only the nutrient levels of each ration, but also the sources of those nutrients,  the precision of manufacture, feeding times and feeding rates/consumption.

In 2002 there was a proposal for a comparative study by the vet for the Klein Karroo Group.  The aim of the study was to compare baby chick liver colours.  Many chicks in South Africa were hatched with livers of a bright yellow colour which Blue Mountain was suggesting was a clear indicator of nutritional deficiencies in breeder nutrition and a contributory cause to the high levels of chick mortality experienced by South Africa ostrich farmers.

The full proposal can be viewed here.  For the purpose of a discussion on variables, I will copy here only the suggested parameters that clearly rendered any such study of absolutely no value to the industry and their producers.  It must be remembered that this proposal was made at a time when production levels were generally extremely low and there was a study on examining the causes of high levels of chick mortality underway.   The principal motivation for the study was to monitor the colour of chick livers at hatch and alterations as the chicks transferred from yolk sac dependency to full external feed intake.

1.  10 chicks each from breeders fed on two different commercial breeder rations. Hatched artificially. Raised according to one protocol.
2.  10 chicks from breeders in on veld pasture. Hatched artificially or by parents and raised on veld.

oudtshoorn veldt

Figure 1 - Oudtshoorn Breeders in the South African Veld in the Oudtshoorn Region

As proposed this study was meaningless because there were far too many variables on a very limited number of chicks.   The proposer clearly did not have a basic understanding of the variables that would have an influence on the results.   The only variable referenced as a control was that the chicks in Group 1 should be reared according to the same protocol.

All Chicks suggested in the study:
No reference was made to ensure the performance history and nutritional history of the parents was known.  As this was a study designed to compare the livers of the chicks, for it to have any true meaning it was essential to ensure the exact nutrient consumption of the breeders and then the chicks while growing was known.  Liver condition (along with all internal organ development) is directly affected by the nutrients fed to the breeders producing the eggs.

Group 1 Chicks:
Most commercial rations in South Africa contain variables from batch to batch and the labelling regulations did not require feed ingredients to be listed and contained minimal nutritional information.

Group 2 Chicks:
For those of you not familiar with South Africa, the Veld is pasture area around Oudtshoorn.  Those second group of chicks would be from breeders running in this area.  Most farmers running breeders in this way also supplemented with either home produced rations made up including a commercial vitamin/mineral/amino acid premix or a commercial breeder ration.

When our industry achieves the high volumes of the mainstream livestock industries, it will then be possible to correctly control variables – including genetics.   In ostrich this would be chicks from a batch of eggs from comparative breeder pairs.   The breeders’ full production, management, nutritional, environmental and genetic history would also be on record.

Newly Hatched Chicks and Early access to Feed

Newsletter No. 50 Item 4

A quote from the article published here:

Quote:  The small intestine of the newly-hatched chick is immature and undergoes significant morphological, biochemical, and molecular changes during the 2 week post-hatch.

The timing and form of nutrients supplied post-hatch is critical for development of intestines. It has been shown that early access to feed accelerates the rate of yolk utilization and enhances growth of the intestinal tract.

Usual hatchery practices result in a 24-72 hr transition between hatching and placing of chicks on the farm. The delayed access to feed can lead to a depression in intestinal function, which may negatively affect subsequent performance of birds.

Studies have also shown that providing developing embryo with exogenous nutrients (in ovo feeding) may enhance intestinal tract development and lead to higher body weight in ovo fed chicks. End quote

The issues raised in this discussion are:

  • The importance of chick access to feed as soon as possible after hatch
  • The reduced performance of chicks as a direct result of the delay when provision of feed is delayed due to the time taken from hatching to transfer to rearing farm.
  • Studies proving that improved breeder feed to enhance embryo development in the egg may lead to higher body weight in chicks at hatch.

These issues are all very relevant for Ostrich production and confirm again the critical importance of adequate breeder nutrition.


Breeding for Meat Quality and High Yield Products

Newsletter No 50 - Item 3

Breeding for Meat Quality and High Yield Products is an article written by a major poultry genetic specialist company.  The introduction states:

Quote: At Cobb, we understand how the quality of these traits impacts on our customers’ profits and for the last two decades we have invested millions of dollars in developing a higher yielding broiler, with breast meat yield increasing 6% of live weight. Our research and development team will continue progressing to keep pace with demands for increased yield and meat quality as well as various aspects of fillet shape, all in an effort to increase white meat yield and sizing yields for our customers. End Quote

This article is discussing the increased weight of breast meat as a percentage of liveweight because it is more valuable than the leg and wing meat.  Take the Fan – OS1046 as an example with Ostrich as a high value muscle because its size makes it a very versatile muscle.  This muscle currently varies enormously and the longer, deeper framed birds will produce a much larger Fan than birds of a more torpedo shape and poor frame development.  The article “The Potential Meat Yield of Ostrich” proves that as an industry, we can more than double the current average meat yields of ostrich and we can do it in many fewer days to slaughter than is the current average.

Are you Setting your Goals High Enough

Newsletter No. 25 – April 2005 Item 3

Taking the discussion above a step further let me cite a few papers that prove the current production challenges facing our industry:

a.  Recent Advances of Ostrich Nutrition in South Africa: Effect of Dietary Energy and Protein on Production
Authors:  Tertius Brand - Elsenberg Agricultural Research Centre and Kobus Nel - Oudtshoorn Experimental Farm

This paper discusses variable rations on what the author's considered to be low, medium and high energy and low, medium and high protein rations.   The paper reports the use of low quality ingredients and does not discuss any details of vitamin and mineral supplementation.

In slaughter birds it reports surprise at the minimal changes in feed conversion between the different rations, and reference their inability to understand this.

The point missed is that the study had proven beyond doubt that all rations were severely nutrient deficient as all birds produced lower slaughter weights than the Degan study carried out in 1991.  The Degan study of 1991 worked with rations designed for Turkeys.   It only makes sense that if birds can produce greater growth on rations designed for different specie, then something must be wrong with rations and management systems that result in slower growth rates!!

b. Are your Goals High Enough?
Author: Kim Bunter - Animal Genetics and Breeding Centre, University of New England, Armidale, Australia

Bunter carried out a major International survey.  The results are from data from over 200 ostrich producers in 35 countries.

Kim Bunter Table 1

Table 1 - Reproductive performance (%) achieved in farmed ostriches
[note: 103 to 110 contributing records in full data; 25 contributing records for >20 hens category]

Table 1 proves the serious problem with breeder production and chick survival.

Quoting Bunter's words:  Currently for each chick surviving to 3 months of age 2.1 eggs on average were incubated, supporting the commonly held view that less than one slaughter bird will result from every two eggs incubated.  After allowing for differences between producers in the percent of eggs incubated, overall efficiency of chick production was very poor (approximately 49%).end quote

Productivity measures of farmed ostrich

Table 2: Productivity measures of farmed ostriches
[Note: 81 to 111 records contributing to full data; 25 contributing records for >20 hens]

c. Latest Feeding Standards for Ostriches
Tertius Brand and Bennie Aucamp - Elsenberg Agricultural College and
Zanell Brand and Kobus Nel, Oudtshoorn Experimental Farm

This paper discusses a similar study to above referenced study carried out on slaughter birds.  The study was based on 9 different diets with differing energy and protein levels and then followed a year later with a further study reducing nutrient levels further.

Latest SA Feeding Standards for Ostrich Breeder Results

Table 3 - Latest SA Feeding Standards for Ostrich Breeder Results

There was no report on chick survivability.  The authors reported that the hens in Study 2 demonstrated significant weight loss during the season.  There was no report on which hens were used for the different studies.  Nutritional history and past performance are exceedingly important when evaluating results in this way.

The study concluded: quote:  The most recent research results indicates that current nutritional specifications for ostrich diets may be lowered under certain circumstances, without a loss of performance. end quote

The study proved quite the proved that all diets resulted in breeder performance that is uneconomic for producers.

d. Conclusion:
Currently most every paper or study one reads proves beyond any doubt that our industry has to change the approach as producers cannot be commercially viable with such low levels of production per hen.